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Alpendolen are Alpine Choughs, a tough joyful bird that lives high up in the mountains. This poem was written after a visit to the Wendelstein, a mountain south of Munich. It marked the real start of my recovery from my Iraq war trauma.

Alpendohlen – Wendelstein

Screen_shot_2017-12-05_at_08.50.24by Patrick Howse25 Aug 2013

These birds choose to live in rarefied air,
Where all around them mountain peaks
Can be distinguished from the banks of
Brilliant white cloud only by their angularity.

One, then a pair, then suddenly five
Wheel with trimmed jet black wings
Through the stinging sky around the roof of
The mountain-top church.

The meringue snow has
Spattered the walls with high impact:
The storm here was wild, and will be again.
But the joyous alpine choughs are oblivious:

With a world at wing-tip, they choose the summits.
At home in the high sky, they deign to touch the
Earth only at altitudes apt to blend with heaven.
Through the thin ice blasted air, where

Fragments of diamond and silver catch the sun
Before it can complete its corrupting downward passage,
They fly freely, spilling their wind as they call
And tumble, owning the vast blue canopy,

Comfortably immersed in their exclusive element,
Forced to ground only by empty stomachs.
Around my feet they’re keen to peck up the crumbs
I scatter from the broken biscuit in my bag,

They jostle amiably for position, denying their crowness:
Their blackness is velvet plumage; their
Red feet slip and skate on the summit’s ice; their
Yellow beaks and flashing friendly eyes

Disown any family connection to rook or magpie.
Up here, at the blur of alp and cloud, they touch
The imprisoning Earth rarely and lightly,
Their survival secondary to the exuberance

And the sheer glory of their lives.